Pp. xix, 120 , London : Darton, Longman & Todd , 2007 , $14.00 .
W.H. Vanstone was an Anglican theologian in the twentieth century. While having the requisite credentials to be placed in the Academy, he chose instead to commit himself to parish work in the north of England. This is a new edition of an historic book first published in 1977; it contains a foreword by H. A. Williams. It explores the nature of authentic love, its cost to the lover, and reflects on the activity of God in creation. This activity, Vanstone avers, is a sublime self-giving, which forms the ground, source, and origin of the universe. Moreover, this activity requires the Creator to wait patiently upon the response of his creation. Vanstone pictures all of reality in light of God's unfailing love for his creatures, which is displayed continually by his self-emptying.
The book is composed of six chapters, the first being autobiographical. Chapter two identifies the problem the book covers, and chapter three describes the phenomenology of love. Chapter four elucidates the kenosis of God, and chapter five explicates the response of being. The book concludes with a chapter devoted to the offering of the church, which shows why the life of the church is a matter of importance.
Vanstone presents divine activity in chapter one as explicable as both working and waiting, which includes both activity and passivity (p. 33). Necessarily included is the idea that the creator gave to or built into his workmanship a degree of power over himself. Vanstone refers to this activity as ‘self-giving’, which he equates with creative love (p. 34). In chapter three the author contends that authenticity of love implies a totality of giving (p. 45). Correspondingly, falsity of love is shown wherever a limit is placed upon it, when control is applied as a result of its display, and when the lover is detached from its application. He notes therein that the activity of love is vulnerable, in that the object which receives love may fail to ‘arrive’, as love proceeds by no assured programme (p. 46). However, the potential gain justifies the risk of failure. In that love is precarious, it's pace is neither static nor smooth, but an angular progress, endlessly improvised (p. 47). From the three marks of falsity of love, Vanstone approximates a description of love as limitless, precarious, and vulnerable (p. 53).
In the fourth chapter, Vanstone reflects on the love of God in light of this description of authentic love. Of course, kenosis, or divine self-emptying, is most often associated with the atoning death of Christ on the cross (cf. Phil 2:5–11). However, Vanstone does not limit this term to the labor of redemption, but identifies it with the ground, source, and origin of all that is (p. 59). The activity of God within creation is a limitless creativity, as it seeks no interior limit to its own self-giving, and ever seeks to enlarge the capacity to receive of the ‘other’ to which it gives (ibid.). As a result of the increasing complexity of the shape and direction of creation, Vanstone notes that nothing is withheld from this self-giving; there are no unexpended reserves of divine power or potentiality. Moreover, in this self-giving, this divine creativity ever extends and enlarges itself (p. 63). Creation is assured of triumph, not because it proceeds towards a predetermined goal, but because the same loving creativity is excercised upon it continually (p. 63). The existence of evil implies that that which is created is a possibility that must be worked out in a creative process, a working out that includes the correction of false steps and the redemption of potentially tragic moves (pp. 63–64). God does not will evil amidst creativity, but instead overcomes it, for out of disturbance comes the possibility of new development.
What is it in the universe that determines the triumph or tragedy of God's love? Vanstone contends that the response of the creature determines either the success or failure of the love of God. He distinguishes three levels of response: that of nature, that of freedom, and that of recognition (p. 81). The response of nature is that a thing should be what it was meant to be by the intention of the creator. The response of freedom refers to the acceptance (or denial) by a thing of what it was meant to be (p. 86). The response of recognition highlights the fact that, for the creative love of God to be considered a triumph, it must wait upon the understanding of those who receive it.
This book is vibrant with passion, yet is also intellectually disciplined. It contains personal experience, intellectual discipline, Christian concern, and insight into practical living. As such, I deem it a masterpiece of twentieth century theology; it should be required reading for graduate theology students.